Ben Walker

Last week, I found out that one of my oldest and most loyal clients dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak amongst their custodial staff earlier this summer. The illness was contained quickly, thankfully, and limited to a small group of people. Roughly six weeks later, however, one of the custodians passed away.

While I hadn't met this particular cleaning worker, I frequently visit the operation for audits and training updates. I know that the outbreak could have been worse, and I know that most would consider one person out of 400 an outlier. For me, that's not a consolation. These illnesses and deaths take a toll on all of us and it's important not to push the psychological damage of trauma aside.

I decided to Google "custodian dies from COVID-19." It was a terrible idea. I made it through page 3 of about 718,000 results before I had seen enough. There's no way to sugarcoat it, we are at war. Winning wars requires robust strategies and superior tactics. Sadly, wars also have casualties — a grim reality that I know many of you are facing.

With this in mind, I know a good portion of you may be struggling to keep on top of things. But we owe it to ourselves and the people we manage to take care of ourselves. Personally, I keep a little notebook of words of wisdom in my messenger bag. It's filled with quotes from my professional mentors, some from my father, and a few from people I admire. I keep coming back to one quote: "Fatigue makes cowards of us all."

When I first heard this, I thought the person who shared it was politely telling me to go to sleep. But I've thought about it and now believe there's much more depth to those six words.

In the past, I've written about my visits with the prominent leadership psychologist. Every time we meet, before we dive into any discussion of leadership strategy or tactics, she will ask, "What are you doing for self-care?" She then has me take inventory using four different buckets: spiritual, physical, emotional and career. It's a valuable exercise, and it has taken me two years and a global pandemic to realize it's importance. Here are the basic guidelines:

Spiritual — This doesn't necessarily mean religious work. Instead, what are you doing daily to nurture your soul? It may mean prayer or meditation, or it may mean gardening, surfing, painting, etc. Whatever it means for you, set the intention to do something for it daily, even if only for a few minutes.

Emotional — This might sound corny, but I start every day by writing three or four things down that I want to allow myself to feel at least once a day. I want to be happy; I want to be upset; I want to feel love; I want to feel pain. Whatever emotions you need to process, be sure to acknowledge them.

Physical — Lucky for us, cleaning work is physical. However, it's essential to set aside time to do something physically stimulating. For some, this may mean deadlifting 350 lbs, or it may be taking a quiet walk for 15 minutes. I have a mentor who gets up like clockwork at 5 a.m. and goes for an hour-long walk. Whatever it is that works for you, set a reasonable goal for yourself and do it daily.

Work/Career — People tend to prioritize this above all else — it's why we save it for last. What are you capable of accomplishing today? What do you want to achieve this week? What do you want to accomplish this month? And so on. Document anything from the mundane to the fantastic. If you don't know, don't worry. Write down what you do know and build your goals from there.

A leader is someone who, whether by choice or by necessity, can give themselves entirely to their community. As leaders, we owe it to our crews and colleagues, but most importantly, to ourselves to keep healthy and strong. Everyone's quoting Dr. Berry these days, so I'll share one of my favorite things about health. "Health is a state of complete mental, physical, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." We clean. We clean for health. Remember that cleaning for health is for you, too.

Ben Walker is COO at ManageMen, Inc., a leading cleaning industry consultancy specializing in training, transitions, auditing and educational materials. In addition to his consulting work, Walker is the author of ISSA's best-selling book: 612 Cleaning Times and Tasks. He can be reached at